U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers of Saks on Monday joined other Republicans urging President Barack Obama to deploy additional National Guard units to help the Border Patrol manage the flow of undocumented immigrants crossing the border with Mexico.
Rogers claimed in a letter to the president that the administration deliberately failed to enforce immigration laws, which resulted in many undocumented immigrant parents putting their children in danger by crossing the border.
“The surge of unaccompanied children at the border is a direct result of the decision to circumvent Congress and implement the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy,” he wrote.
This policy provides a set of criteria under which undocumented immigrants can remain in the U.S. and avoid being deported; those criteria include age, educational level and lack of a criminal record.
Rogers’ letter echoes one sent Friday to the president by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. Other top Republicans have also pressed Obama to act.
The White House on Friday announced a plan to address what an administration official called “an urgent humanitarian situation.” The plan focuses mainly on speeding deportation of immigrants caught trying to cross the border illegally. According to a transcript at the White House website, Alejandro Mayorkas, deputy secretary of Homeland Security, told reporters Friday the administration was reviewing Boehner’s request for National Guard troops, but believed that it was a matter for Homeland Security and the Justice Department to deal with.
The number of undocumented immigrants detained has steadily declined in the last decade according to figures from the Department of Homeland Security. In 2005, the numbers spiked with nearly 1.3 million arrested. As of 2012, that number was less than half. The decline was likely a result of the 2008 recession.
Mexico, however, represented the largest population of detained immigrants at approximately 449,000 in 2012.
Rogers cited Homeland Security statistics saying that 60,000 children will cross the United States border in 2014, putting them in serious danger.
“The administrative decision to grant special status to children brought here illegally by their parents encourages and rewards the deliberate breaking of U.S. law and is tantamount to administrative amnesty,” Rogers wrote.
Susan Watson, executive director of the Alabama branch of the ACLU, criticized Rogers in his approach to immigration policy reform.
"Immigration reform is an important matter that Congress should be working on in order to address serious problems,” she wrote, “But it is ironic that a member of the House is sending a letter like this to President Obama when it is the House that is stalling immigration reform in Congress."
In 2013, nearly 40,000 unaccompanied juveniles were apprehended on the Southwest border, according to Border Patrol statistics.
“Not only does this threaten our sovereignty as a nation by demonstrating we have no operational control over our borders, it broadly projects an image of a weak America with respect to the rule of law,” Rogers wrote to the president.
Evelyn Servin, an organizer for the Alabama Coalition For Immigrant Justice, or ACIJ, said that instead of writing a letter to the president, the cause would benefit more from an open letter to the members of Congress. She also said the ACIJ is also against putting National Guard boots on the ground in the Southwest.
“We need to ask ourselves why so many people are leaving their own country to come here,” she said. “It would be a waste of money and creates more abuse from the Border Patrol.”
Servin said around 1,100 families are split up every day on the border, a number that Congress should take into account when forming legislation.
“Emphasis should be put on a comprehensive bill instead of sending troops to the border,” she said. “By expanding visas we can help people come here and stay legally.”
Ira Mehlman, spokesperson for the Federation For American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, believes that using the National Guard will help stem the flow of undocumented immigrants while relieving administrative pressure on Border Patrol agents.
“We have been essentially sending the message that if you come to the United States illegally, that you will be rewarded, and we need to reverse those expectations,” he said. “When people believe they are not going to succeed, that is when we will see relief from this current situation.”
Stress on the Border Patrol is enough reason to deploy the troops, Mehlman said. It’s a common misperception, he claimed, that the Border Patrol is adequately manned for its mission.
“What people need to understand is that we have a limited number of Border Patrol agents and they are, in their own words, being used as ‘babysitters’ and not on the front lines doing what they need to do,” he said.
Around 19,000 agents patrol the Southwest sector, according to Border Patrol staffing statistics. This can present a problem when faced with an influx of nearly half a million undocumented immigrants per year, Mehlman said.
“They are sending these signals to South America and the rest of the world that if you come to the U.S. illegally, unless you commit a serious crime, we will not make any effort to remove you,” he said. “If you show up to the border as an unaccompanied minor or a family, after a brief detention, you will get to remain here. This is just consistent with the administration’s five-and-a-half-year record.”
Starting in 2010, 1,200 troops were deployed to the border, but that number is now at 300, according to a report from the Austin American-Statesman.
Staff Writer Ryan Phillips: 256-235-3553. On Twitter @rphillips_Star.